Disasters & Accidents

Hurricane Iota devastates infrastructure on Colombia’s Providencia island

(Update 1: Updates headline, lede, adds information about Colombian islands, minor edits)

Bogota/Cartagena, Nov 16 (efe-epa).- Infrastructure on the Caribbean island of Providencia, which is part of the Colombian archipelago of San Andrés, has been devastated by the passage of category 5 hurricane Iota, which so far has left one person dead, while authorities try to reach the area.

After about 14 hours in which there was no information coming out of Providencia, hit head-on by Iota Monday morning and where communications were cut off at 3 am (8.00 GMT), Colombian President Iván Duque said in the evening that he had managed to communicate with Mayor Jorge Norberto Gari Hooker.

“There is a maximum impact on infrastructure; we are talking about a deterioration of about 98 percent of the infrastructure on the island of Providencia,” said the president.

According to Duque, the mayor indicated that one loss of human life has been registered so far, while in San Andrés there are currently no recorded deaths from the hurricane.

Not much is known about the condition of the nearly 5,000 inhabitants of Providencia, and Duque warned that the data provided by Gari Hooker is preliminary.

Authorities seek to get there Tuesday with Navy ships or by air to assess the damage caused by the first category five hurricane to hit Colombia since records began.

The archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina is the only island department in the country and its economy is based on tourism.

Providencia is connected to the island of Santa Catalina, also hit by Iota, by the Bridge of Lovers.

“The archipelago is without electricity, Providencia without total communication, without Marine VHF, cell phones, satellite phones and enduring the increasing power and strength of the hurricane, which is already category 5,” San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina governor Everth Hawkins said on Twitter Monday morning when nothing was known about the situation on the islands.

On San Andrés, inhabited by more than 43,000 people and which is without electricity, the authorities have not yet given a report on injuries and damages, but on social networks the islanders have published photos.

The runway at the Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport, the archipelago’s main connection point with mainland Colombia and closed since the weekend, is flooded, while in other areas of the island there are dozens of fallen trees, houses without roofs and power poles strewn on the ground.

Authorities are transporting 10,000 food kits, another 10,000 toilet kits and a similar number of kitchen packages from Bogotá, as well as 5,000 mosquito nets, 5,000 hammocks and 5,000 sheets, according to the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management.

The powerful hurricane is approaching with maximum sustained winds of 260 kilometers per hour the northeast coast of Nicaragua, where it is expected to make landfall Monday night with devastating winds and torrential rains, and produce a rise in the tide of between four and six meters.

On the mainland, the storm surge caused by the passage of Iota has flooded neighborhoods near the beaches of Cartagena.

The General Maritime Directorate (Dimar) reported that the usual sea level in front of the city has risen about 60 centimeters, which means that almost all the streets of the tourist neighborhoods of Bocagrande, Castillogrande and El Laguito remain flooded and traffic cut off.

Rising waters have also flooded numerous homes in the populous sectors of La Boquilla and Marlinda in the north of the city. There, the streets are completely flooded and people moving about outside do so with water up to their knees.

The Ciénaga de la Virgen overflowed and its waters have reached up to two streets inside the neighborhood of Olaya Herrera.

Two days ago the mayor of Cartagena decreed an emergency for the damage caused by Iota, which was a tropical storm on Saturday when it passed through the city and quickly became a category five hurricane as it advanced through the Caribbean Sea towards Central America.

To deal with the emergency in Cartagena, the authorities have delivered more than three tons of humanitarian aid, including food, clothing, mats, markets and drinking water to people who have totally or partially lost their homes and have been staying in shelters since Saturday.

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